When the kids were younger, our natural homeschooling year was kind of upside-down. Winter would see us spending a lot of down-time in front of the fire, energy and creativity at a bit of an ebb. Once the longer days and warm weather began in spring, learning would explode. The summer fun of outdoor activities, community special events and music workshops would propel things forward. In fall any scheduled activities would start anew and there would be lots of enthusiasm, all of which would end in a big crescendo leading into holiday celebrations, performances, crafting and gift-giving. After that a couple of months of fallow time felt natural and healthy.

We also didn’t really have a difference between weekdays and weekends. We were as likely to take a “nothing day” to just stay home and chill on a Wednesday as on a Saturday, and a history of Canada book was as likely to get pulled out on a Sunday evening as a Monday morning.

Once we started adding school to the mix, though, we kind of fell into a more traditional school year. This year Fiona’s homeschooling has been even more strongly ruled by the school calendar than in the past since she opted to do a course at school and had both her live-at-home siblings in school full time.

She wanted to do a fair amount of bookwork, but she decided she would only do it on weekdays, and only until school let out in June. Sounds a lot like school-at-home, doesn’t it? So be it: that’s what she wanted. She started out with some tentative plans to do some handwriting workbooks, some curricular novel studies, to graze through a math enrichment book (Challenge Math) and to dabble in a bit more of the TOPS chemistry program. She also wanted to continue with gymnastics and to participate in homeschool art classes, to take Spanish in the classroom at school, and to continue with the Law and Government workshops in Nelson. She also decided to continue on with violin lessons even though that meant studying with her mother as her teacher — definitely not her preferred structure, but the only option for continuing formal study at this point. We wrote all this down as a plan for our DL program so that we could revisit it, regalvanize our efforts and/or amend the plan as needed.

So how did it all play out?

The handwriting books arrived in the mail today. Long story, three complicated chapters with one long intermission. So that didn’t happen, not yet anyway. TOPS chemistry …. well, she did a bit early in the fall, but then she seemed to not want that structure, and science just meandered off on serendipitous tangents according to whatever experiences and interests came her way — volcanos, DNA, natural history, astronomy, all very loose and led by whims. No textbooks, no output, no plan, whatever goes. During the fall her interest in math bookwork seemed to have pretty much fizzled. I don’t think she did anything much until the end of November when, at the back of the classroom where her art classes are held she encountered the school’s Grade 8 textbook and fell in love. We borrowed a copy and she continued to really enjoyed it, finishing the whole course by the beginning of May. She even chose to write the same final exam the schoolkids wrote, albeit in the comfort of her own home (she’s finishing it up as I write this post). The curricular novel studies? She did one, enjoyed it because it was something new, did another and wasn’t feeling the love any more, so that was the end of that.

Law and Government was awesome, finishing with a great moot court experience. Gymnastics has been great; she was asked to move up to the most advanced recreational class for her age and we had to ask the Corazoners for some concessions on their transportation to make the schedule work, but it was definitely worth it as she’s much more challenged. Spanish worked out as a second-semester course and she roundly enjoyed it, fitting in well and even taking on a natural leadership role with the older kids in group project work.

Violin has been not entirely successful. When she studied with an “outside teacher” the implicit expectation by that teacher (even if it was “just” her grandmother)  of regular practicing was enough to ensure that she did her half hour of practicing most days. She also tends to be socially motivated by things that family members are busy with, and this year neither Noah nor Sophie have teachers (they’re well beyond a level that I or other teachers in the area could teach at) so she hasn’t had that family momentum to get caught up in. And she suffered the fate that all the other local students suffered: a shared master class of 90 minutes didn’t offer them nearly enough individualized guidance to progress optimally. So she’s struggled with motivation, and has practiced rather minimally — briefly two to four times a week on average. We’ve managed to recruit a teacher to the area for next year and she’s decided there’s enough chance that that will help that she’s willing to carry on through the summer. She’s also looking forward to SVI of course, and will get a chance to do some chamber music there.

So that’s it for the planned stuff. There’s been a lot of pretty great unplanned learning … the Vi Hart videos, the snorkelling in Hawaii, the XC skiing, the fascination with maps and globes, the conversations, podcasts, documentaries, encounters with interesting people, books read, computer games played, TV shows inhaled, community events, family expeditions, friendships, performances and volunteer activities.

She did have a low point in late winter where she began talking about going to school next fall to fix whatever she was seeing as the problem. There was some social stuff behind it I think — perhaps she had been slightly excluded at a social function by the clique of girls who dominate the class she would be in at school. I was in the process of setting up a trial week for her at school when the ground shifted again and she told me not to bother. She spent a morning with the Grade 4/5/6 group at a theatre workshop and found herself very frustrated by the time and energy that had to be spend on behaviour management. “Not worth it for me, at all,” was Fiona’s verdict. For what it’s worth, I think the teacher is amazing, she’s one of my best friends, and most years her classroom would be a lovely place to spend some time. This particular group of kids, though… well, things are a little over the top, even for her.

After that brief flirt with the idea of school Fiona’s spring energy kicked in, and ever since she has seemed really happy with what she’s doing and where she’s at. She has loved the independence she’s had this year during my teaching time, taking on some volunteer work, some small bits of paid housekeeping at an apartment, a bit of mother’s-helper type babysitting, she likes the crazy fun drives to Nelson with all those teenagers, her friendships with various older and younger kids, the travelling we’ve done and the “chill” time she gets at home. For most of the year there’s been little structured learning other than the math two or three times a week,  and the Spanish class, but there has been lots of other stuff and she’s curious and creative and full of enthusiasm.

Winters, especially late winters, are always hard here. Perhaps if we plan ways to cope with that nadir ahead of time next year we won’t suffer for it.

And so … onwards into summer and beyond.

Fiona’s “Grade 4” year

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